A DARK SHADOW
A Swashbuckling, Romantic Mystery
By: Ted Anthony Roberts
My Meeting at Midnight
As I slowly walk toward a nearby corner, advancing close to a dull-illuminating lamppost, I can barely make out the brick layered Paris street. The moon is being very cruel this evening, deciding to hide itself from any observer, as it blankets itself behind some slowly moving dark clouds, on this very cold night, late in October.
She promised to meet me here at this lamppost; and here I am, close to midnight, forced to keep some cheap rendezvous upon this lonely path of the rue Feron! And I begin to wonder if I should have stayed in my apartment, and dared not be lulled in by her slight beauty, which was playing tricks upon my young mind.
I exhale a long breath, as it clouds into the stiff coldness, which I can barely see by the dull light of the post, as I begin leaning upon it.
“Well,” I start to say to myself, in a slight attempt to become reassured, “she did tell me that it was a matter of life or death; that some maniac was trying to kill her . . . Ha!” I suddenly bellow out. “It’s probably her husband, trying to get even with her for all the men she has perhaps been with – and it would serve her right! And now,” I add, while gripping the pommel of the sword which hangs by my side, “she needs me to use my weapons for her cause.”
For the first time this evening I begin cracking a smile. The very thought of being duped by a lovely has a sort of romanticism to it.
Just then, I hear a scrapping sound coming from nearby, as if someone was trying to walk along the sidewalk, and their boot had scrapped across the pavement. Of course, I turn my sights into the direction of the noise, but can make nothing out in the darkness. I know that this is a public street, and is probably some lover trying to get to their own personal rendezvous. At this thought, I turn my head back to where I was staring before the interruption, and begin to brood in my thoughts once again. But then I hear the noise once more – but this time a little more pronounced. Again I turn my attention to the sound, and this time I can make out a form in the dark street, a little beyond me.
They seem, whoever this is, to be looking into my direction. Yet, I can’t see them clearly, so maybe they have their back toward me.
Then I notice someone quickly walking up to from another direction. I venture to take my attention off the mysterious form and begin looking at the newcomer, who I notice is the lady that I had been waiting for.
“You’ve come!” she says to me, in a voice of relief.
“Yes, I am here.” I reply.
“Then perhaps you do believe me after all.”
“Well,” I say, hesitating a bit, “I’m here, aren’t I?”
She was about to open her mouth to reply when she was stopped short by a loud scream, which sounded more like a screech, coming from the very alley where I saw the dark mysterious form. The sound was horrendous, as if the person was suffering an agony beyond utter endurance! My natural response was to quickly unsheathe my sword. The dear lady got quickly behind me, and we were both frozen where we stood – staring into the gross darkness from which the sound came! We dared not to say a word, but kept staring in that direction.
We began hearing scooting noises from the area. We then heard walking, as if the person were very heavy footed.
“Who goes there?” I finally venture to ask, with slight force. There is no reply to my direct question. We continue to stand, the lady and I, in an unmovable fashion, while she stayed behind, and I had my outstretched arm (equipped with sharp sword) pointing toward the direction of the noise.
Finally, we begin to make out an odd form coming slowly toward us. The form was very odd, for it seemed to be in the shape of a T; or, rather, in the form of a cross, as if a grave stone were coming toward us. But then, the odd form quickly became different, as a body was tossed into the middle of the street – not too far from where we were standing! That cross shape had obviously been formed because one person was carrying a body in their arms. And as quickly as the body was thrown, the dark form left the scene.
I hesitated no longer, and ran over to the body. It was lying face down with a dagger in its back! But there seemed to be a note attached to the dagger, and lying terribly upon the back of the victim. The only way not to rip the note was to first remove the dagger. I do so, then turn the body over to see the face.
It was a man that I recognized not; but as for the lady, well, she jumped back in horror, and in her turn gave out a loud scream!
“Who was this?” I demand.
“Why, it’s my husband!” she confirms, beginning to tear up.
“Your husband?” I ask, my brows knitting. “Why would someone want to kill your husband?”
Without answering, she begins to walk away from both me and the body in a backwards motion, as if she were planning on leaving.
“Madame.” I say. “Will you answer me?”
She still says nothing, looking as if death were upon her face, and continuing backward ever so slowly!
“Look,” I add, “you asked me for my help – so please answer my questions.”
This time, she simply ran off just as fast as she could!
“Madame!” I yell out to her. She does not answer, and I watch her disappear. At this time, I am still upon my knees over the body. And I once again turn my attention back over to the note – of which I momentarily forgot about. I quickly take it over to the lamppost to try and make it out. This I find is a rather difficult task, for the light is just too dull. Not to mention the blood that has slightly stained the letter.
“Well,” I finally conclude, “It looks as if I need to report this murder to the police. But I sure would like to get a look at this note before doing so.”
At this thought, I quickly run off into the direction of my apartment, which is located not too far from the scene of the crime. I quickly light two candles upon my table, and begin to anxiously read the note.
“I told you not to interfere with my plans.” I begin reading out loud. “I’m going to kill your husband now!”
“Hum!” I say, leaning back in my chair. “Well, it seems that madame got this note a little too late – for the husband is already dead. And if I only knew where she lived, I could go there and try and question her further about this matter . . . but, nay, my friend,” I begin telling myself, “don’t bother yourself about this matter anymore! Let the police handle it.”
I suddenly hear strange noises outside the door of my apartment. I jump toward the door, and I open it just as quickly.
“Another dark form!” I say to myself, upon seeing the image of a person standing not too far from my apartment, seemingly in hesitation as to whether to approach and knock on my door or not. I then say aloud: “I say there, who are you?”
“I didn’t kill that man!” I heard the person say, terribly.
“What do you mean?” I ask, timidly, while starting to reach for my sword upon instinct.
Stepping more into the light, the dark form becomes the image of a man, and a face can now be seen.
“Jean!” I nearly yell. “What are you doing here at this hour?”
Just now, I notice that there is blood all over Jean, a comrade of mine in a regiment of His Majesty, Louis XIII.’s personal bodyguard. I also notice that his countenance is extremely pale and sweaty. He has a look upon his face, a look that is mixed with fear and horror.
“You’ve got to help me, Pierre!” he pleads with me. “It was I who threw the body near you in the street, but I was not the one who killed that poor woman’s husband!”
“Jean, how do you know about that lady’s affairs? And why were you at the scene of that crime?”
“Pierre, I don’t have time to explain right now, I have to leave before I am seen by him.”
“Just believe me, Jean,” he continued, ignoring my question, “that I did not murder her husband; adieu!”
Suddenly he darts away from my apartment, just as fast as his legs will carry him. I think of calling out to him, but I realize that it will do me no good, for it is obvious that he is spooked heavily, and mere yelling will not detour his thoughts. Afterwards, I shut my apartment front door and return back into the living area, plunged into deep thought.
Well, it’s obvious to me that I cannot simply go to the police now, for I must find out on my own why Jean is involved – I owe him that much! Jean is a good comrade and companion, and we have been friends from the very first day that we found ourselves in the guard unit together – for we joined on the very same day, and we have become fast friends; and nearly everyday since, we have been together – comrades in arms! However, over the past month, things have been a little different, and Jean has been acting a little strange. Admittedly, I have been ignoring this, for I just figured that Jean has been having problems with his mistress, the cause of his quietness and sudden disappearances, for he met her right at the time that his strange behavior had begun. But to whom his mistress is, I haven’t a clue! She must really be intriguing, though, for Jean seems to be mesmerized by her, and simply cannot stay away from the lady for a long period of time. I’d normally leave him alone in his affairs, but now this is different, for he has shown up at my door with the blood of a dead man all over his person, and swearing that he had not committed an obvious murder. Not that murder is an odd thing in this city these days, but the very fact that it was the murder of a man that I had been inquiring about for about a week now because of his wife, whom I met around that time, is enough to give me alarm! I fear that Jean is in serious trouble, and I don’t know if it has anything to do with his mysterious mistress or not. But I aim to find out. Jean’s in trouble, and he’s my friend!
With this last thought, I immediately head straight out the door – even though it is after midnight, and I’m supposed to be on guard duty in the morning! And the first thing that I must do is to head straight to Jean’s apartment, to see if he had come back home. My friend doesn’t live very far at all from my apartment, so I make it there in good timing. Walking up to his door, I extend my hand out toward it to knock, but I am stopped short by the hearing of some whispers nearby . . . but where are they coming from? Looking to my immediate left, I notice that a window is opened up into Jean’s apartment, with a soft glowing light illuminating from inside. The whispers, I notice, are coming from the inside of his apartment, and are near the window in question. I cannot but help myself to start slowly advancing toward his window on tip-toe! The voices, as I approach nearer, are becoming more clear and audible.
“Where is he going exactly?” I begin hearing, as I am now just outside the window, and of which I recognize as a female voice.
“He’s going back to his mistress’ apartment.” is the reply, which comes from another female.
I take it that Jean is not at home, and they are perhaps talking about him.
“Well, did he at least leave us a bag of money?” asks the first female, with an obvious pout.
“You know very well, Lucy, that the money is to be given out at the proper time.” is the reply from the second female.
“Yes, Charlotte,” says Lucy, sounding upset, “I have heard that before. But I’m beginning not to trust anyone these days! How do you know that any of us will be paid? It’s my guess that we will be turned over to the law, and the main person behind all of this will go free!”
“You think too much, Lucy!” is the response.
Advancing closer to the sill, I try to peer into the window, so I can see who my two mysterious females are; but, of all the bad luck, a branch at my feet suddenly snaps underneath my weight! Of course, this is enough to off-nerve the two women, who suddenly gasp!
“What was that?” asks one of them, suddenly.
“I told you that we are not safe here. Let’s get out of here!”
Upon hearing this, I quickly dart to the far left-side of the house, so I can be unseen to whoever leaves out the front door. Sure enough, two mysterious forms suddenly leave Jean’s home, looking into every direction imaginable as they walk briskly, seeing if they are being seen or followed. After I cannot see them anymore, for they have disappeared into a certain direction, I immediately walk back over to Jean’s window and peer inside to see if there is anyone left in the apartment. Fortunately, they left the candle burning, so I am able to see fairly well inside.
Seems to be empty now, so I proceed to the inside of his apartment.
“What a mess!” I exclaim upon my entrance. There is clothing, different items, and dishes strung all over the floor. I don’t know if Jean is protesting to having his apartment cleaned, or if those two women had actually ransacked his apartment!
“Lucy and Charlotte . . . .” I say to myself, as I continue to scan the scene. “No, I’ve never heard of them . . . . But what is this?”
Through the entire mess, I spy a folded-up note lying upon the floor. Either Jean dropped it on the floor, or one of those two women accidentally did. Grabbing it quickly, I anxiously unfold it, and walk over near the candle light.
“Dear Monsieur Jean de Effaney,” I begin reading, “I trust that you had enjoyed our evening together last night? But now I really need your help! I fear that someone is trying to kill me!”
“Sounds familiar!” I say out loud. “This is almost identical to the letter that I received.”
“I beg of you to meet me near the lamppost at the Rue Feron.” I continue with the letter, as my brows now begin to knit heavily at the next lines. “Meet me there around midnight. I need your protection! Signed, Madame de Chevney.”
“Madame de Cheveny!” I nearly yell. “Is this a joke?”
This is the same lady that I had met at midnight! Is this why Jean was at the same place that I was this night?
Losing myself into more deep thought, I am suddenly broken from it as I hear several voices from outside, which are coming closer and closer to Jean’s apartment. I cannot make out what they are saying, but I believe that whoever they are, they’re coming nearer to coming inside! If that is the case, I don’t want to be caught in here – just in case it’s a police investigation. So, upon this new thought, I quickly hide beside a large dresser near the end of the room, to where I cannot be seen by whoever decides to come inside.
Sure enough, several people come walking inside Jean’s apartment!
“You see what has happened to his apartment?” I hear a lady say. Unfortunately, from where I am, I can see nothing.
“Do you know who might have done this, madame?” I hear a man say.
“No, lieutenant.” is the response. “But just in case they were still here, I needed you to come for my protection. I was in such a fright, I dropped a letter of mine upon the floor, and I need to retrieve it.”
“Well, make it quick, madame,” is the lieutenant’s response, “there’s a killer on the loose right now, and you ladies need to be in safety as soon as possible, and not walking the streets this time of night. We’ve recovered a body over at the Rue Feron about thirty minutes ago, and there was a young man reported to have been seen near the body, and who ran off afterwards. Who knows, he may very well be the very one who ransacked this apartment!”
“Oh my, lieutenant!” says a different female voice, which, of both female voices, sound very much like my Lucy and Charlotte of earlier. “Did they get a good look at this young killer?”
“Yes, madame.” is the response. “We got a very good description of him.”
“But it’s dark out there; how can you get a good look at anybody?”
“The fool leaned near a lamppost for a long enough period of time for someone to be able to make out their features. In fact, our witness has seen this young man on several occasions before, and can point out who he is for us.”
“What!” I say, almost in danger of being heard. Surely this can’t be me! The lamplight on that street was so poor that I couldn’t even read the letter that I found on the dead man’s back.
“Who is he?” asks the woman.
“I’m not at liberty to say, madame.” declares the lieutenant. “Just keep up with the Gazette, and I’m sure you will learn soon enough.”
“Lucy!” says the first woman. “It’s not here! I cannot find it anywhere.”
“You mean the letter, Charlotte?”
“Yes, Lucy. I cannot find the letter.”
“Oh, but you must find it, Charlotte! Madame will be very sore against both of us if it falls into the wrong hands.”
“But I’ve looked and re-looked several times, in the same spots even. It’s just not here!”
“Then whoever we heard outside the window must have come in and taken it.” declares Lucy.
“Someone was outside the window?” suddenly asks the lieutenant.
“Yes, lieutenant,” replies Charlotte, “that’s why we ran away, and the reason I had asked you to accompany us back to this apartment. As I told you, in my haste, I dropped my mistress’s letter. Now that I cannot find it, she will be most put out! Well, I suppose there’s nothing more that we can do here.”
“By the way, ladies,” says the lieutenant, “who’s apartment is this anyways?”
“My mistress’s lover’s apartment.” answers Charlotte. “And that is all I dare say.”
“Alright, I’ve heard enough.” announces the lieutenant, not daring to go any further into the conversation; or, rather, not really caring.
All three suddenly depart from the abode, leaving me well perplexed! Now, I’m starting to put things together. If this apartment is the living quarters of Charlotte’s Mistress’s lover, and her mistress is the author of the letter that I am now in possession of, and if this apartment, as I know that it is, is the home of the lover of this lady, which I know to be Jean, then this can only mean one thing – Jean’s mistress is none other than Madame de Cheveny! That is, the very lady of whom I had that rendezvous with at midnight. This is really getting deep!
End of Chapter 1